With a plethora of talent available but only so many spots to fill, the All Blacks selectors were always going to have some tough cuts to make when finalising their Rugby World Cup squad. This year, Ngani Laumape, Owen Franks, Jackson Hemopo and Vaea Fifita found themselves as Steve Hansen and the All Black selectors' unlucky exclusions.
It's a familiar story for the hard running Hurricanes midfielder. Among the most dominant attacking players in the Super Rugby competition, Laumape found himself in the All Blacks' initial squad only to miss out in the last round of cuts.
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The 26-year-old is unlucky to lose his spot to oft-injured stalwart Ryan Crotty, who hasn't played a game of rugby since sustaining a thumb injury in the Crusaders' Super Rugby semifinal win over the Hurricanes in late June.
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What Hansen said: "It's one of those positions where five doesn't fit four and whoever we left out was going to be disappointed and probably deserved to be in the team. In the case of Ryan, he's got a lot of experience with the All Blacks, he's in the team leadership group, he's a quality player who can play both second-five and centre, and those little things probably edged him ahead of Ngani."
The veteran prop was a surprise exclusion from the 31-man squad, missing out to younger, more multi-faceted players. Highlighting the need for big, mobile props, Hansen said the selectors felt other players were simply more suited to today's game than Franks. Barring an injury or surprise call up, the decision brings an end to Franks' 108-test All Blacks career, with the 31-year-old set to continue his career in England.
What Hansen said: "He is one of the great All Blacks. He's certainly shown true character. His professionalism on and off the field has been magnificent over the years; he's played over 100 tests. Unfortunately, we as the three selectors, we believe the game requires us to have big, mobile No 1s and No 3s and in this case we just think the other guys that we've named are more so than he and therefore we had to make a tough decision."
Jackson Hemopo and Vaea Fifita
With Hemopo and Fifita able to play in the loose forwards and at lock, their utility value would have been a big tick in the pros column – if the selectors decided not to carry four locks. However, with Patrick Tuipulotu playing his way into the squad and Scott Barrett able to move into the loose forwards if required, another lock was surplus to requirements. Hemopo and Fifita were the unlucky players to miss out, with Luke Jacobson securing a place in the squad.
What Hansen said: "When we decided we were going to take four locks, it came down to Jackson and Vaea contesting that fourth lock position straight out with Patrick. We saw Patrick's performance against Australia and were really happy with how he performed. It came down to Vaea and Jackson then competing with Luke … and we just felt that Luke brought a little bit more than the other two to that position."